Characters Discussed

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Ruth, a former photographer’s model in her early thirties, now married to Teddy and the mother of their sons. On the occasion of her and Teddy’s visit to his family home in London, she is a force in the lives of Teddy’s father, uncle, and two brothers. As an outsider, she disrupts the comfortable routine of their lives. At the end, she does not leave for the United States with her husband; she admonishes him, at his departure, not to become a stranger. At first, experiencing the family’s hostility toward her, she slowly and subtly engages each of the men in a battle of the sexes, in which she emerges as the victor. Her control over Max is emotional; over Lenny, psychological; and over Joey, sexual. Her life with Teddy is sterile. Her psychological mobility is the secret of her eventual dominance over the immobility of the males.


Max, the father of Teddy, Lenny, and Joey, and the domineering, seventy-year-old patriarch of the family. His sons and his brother, Sam, live with him in a shabby ancestral home in London. He constantly threatens his sons and brother, and even Ruth when she arrives. Underneath the animal imagery of his virile language lie the buried uncertainties of his past. These emerge in the course of the play and involve possible violations of his now-deceased wife, Jessie, in the back of Max’s taxicab. His conflicts are with his sons as well, even as he insists on a “cuddle” with one of them. His boasts about his secure family life prove to be idealistic. Illusions about his wife and family are shattered as the realities of his past emerge in fragmentary pieces. His emotional tensions find release at the end; crawling over to Ruth and repeating that he is not an old man, he asks her to kiss him.


Lenny, the first of the family to meet Ruth. He is in his early thirties, and his character suggests homosexuality. In his meeting with Ruth, a superiority battle develops in which Ruth is the victor. Lenny, however, proposes that Ruth stay with the family and have an apartment in London in which she will earn money for them by means of prostitution. He plans to make all the necessary arrangements, even to the furnishing of her apartment. In a final ironic gesture, he suggests that Teddy could provide her with names of his American colleagues on their visits to England. In his battle with Ruth, he indulges in monologues of fantasy about women who have attempted to have sex with him and failed. Despite his boasting, he is, finally, at the mercy of Ruth, who moves with the flux of things, using her enigmatic, nonverbalized life force to counter the rigidities and dominance of the men in her life.


Teddy, who is in his middle thirties, a philosophy professor at an American university and Ruth’s husband. He is the intellectual of the family. Professionally and domestically, his life adds up to a sterile realization of the American Dream. America is the alien force in the play, and Ruth, like her biblical predecessor, is amid alien corn. She does not accompany him when he leaves for America.


Sam, Max’s sixty-three-year-old brother, a taxicab driver who boasts of the rich people he has driven to the airport. He constantly suffers verbal attacks by Max, and at one point his verbal victimization by Max takes physical form as he is struck to the floor by his brother.


Joey, a boxer in his early twenties. Of the three brothers, he is the most physical. In his sexual encounter with Ruth, even he cannot claim victory; he complains that she is only a tease who refused to go “the whole hog” with him.


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Jessie is Max's late wife and the mother of Teddy, Lenny, and Joey Though she never appears in the play, she is mentioned frequently and her presence is felt throughout. She is praised by Max in saintly terms as being "the backbone of the...

(The entire section contains 1729 words.)

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Critical Essays